Berlin Cabaret Songs

I’ve been thinking about possible choices for music for boats in the Amsterdam Canal Parade in August. The line of thought took me back to the Berlin of the 1920s, and the music performed in the cabarets of the time. If you’ve seen the musical or the film "Cabaret", then you’ll be aware of how some of the songs had political undertones. However, Kander and Ebb’s songs in Cabaret were only a homage to the real thing.

The real songs from that time were often bitingly satirical, or revolutionary in intent. So much so that the Nazis banned them as "degenerate music" (entartete musik). As Kara Kellar Bell writes:

Some of them make fun of Hitler himself, as well as the Nazis in general. They also criticise the Weimar Republic, the ban on abortion, sexual hypocrisy, homophobia, and the general dishonesty and corruption of the culture.

Kellar Bell is reviewing a collection of these songs put together by Ute Lemper. There are actually two versions of this collection: the songs sung in English (the one reviewed by Kellar Bell) and the songs sung in the original German. Whichever one you listen to, the power of these songs, magnificently sung by Lemper, comes roaring through.

My favourite has to be The Lavender Song by Spoliansky and Schwabach. An extract:

We’re not afraid to be queer and different
if that means hell–well hell, we’ll take the chance
they’re all so straight uptight upright and rigid
they march in lockstep, we prefer to dance
We see a world of romance and of pleasure
all they can see is sheer banality
Lavender nights are our greatest treasure
where we can be just who we want to be.

There’s still a frisson in the opening of the third verse:

Round us all up, send us away
that’s what you’d really like to do

Because of course, that’s just what the Nazis started to do when they came to power.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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